Summer has arrived at last and with it, the desire to eat ice cream! The passion for ices is not a new one of course. By the beginning of the 19thc ice creams and water ices were an expected luxury at fashionable dinner parties. In the summer ladies would sit in their open carriages in Berkeley Square, in the shade of the great plane trees and eat ices while their male escorts lounged alongside.
The print above is of a French ice cream parlour with one young lady eating what looks like a strawberry ice while the others consult the menu board and flirt with the waiter.
These days we have fridges, freezers, ice cream makers and unlimited ice, but how did a 19thc cook manage to create ice-cold confections in the summer? Ice was cut from ponds and lakes in the winter and stored deep underground, packed in insulating straw in specially designed icehouses. Every stately home had one and in London establishments like Gunters would buy theirs from specialist wholesalers – some of whom cut their ice from the Regent’s Canal. By the 1840s ice was being shipped from the States and from Norway and special ice wells were dug to store it.
Once you had your ice (and had presumably removed the frozen pondweed and the occasional newt from it) it was crush and put into a pail. The pot containing the ingredients of the ice was put into this pail and then the ice was sprinkled with salt, lots of it, which lowers the temperature still further. I asked my scientist husband what the physics involved was and he said, “Complicated,” so I haven’t pursued it!
So here are some recipes for you to try. They all come from The Complete Confectioner of 1815, by the wonderfully-named Frederick Nutt. My copy of the books, as you can see from the title page, was originally owned by Mrs Davis of Moor Court and I don’t think she, or her cook, used it much because it is in pristine condition.
Please note – I haven’t tried any of these myself, so you are on your own if you attempt them!
The first ice cream recipe, for Barberry ice Cream, gives the method to be used for all the others (spelling and punctuation are Mr Nutt’s!):
Take a large wooden spoonful of barberry jam, and put it into a bason with one pint of cream; squeeze one lemon ion, mix it well; add a little cochineal to colour it; put it into the freezing pot and cover it; put the freezing pot into a pail and some ice all round the pot; throw a great deal of ice in the pail, turning the pot round for ten minutes; then open your pot, and scrape it from the sides, cover it up again, and keep turning it for some time, till your cream is like butter, and as thick; put it in your moulds, pit them into a pail, and cover it with ice and salt for three quarters of an hour, til you find the water is come to the top of the pail; do not be sparing of the salt, for if you do not use enough it will not freeze: dip your mould into water, and turn it out on your plate to send to table.
Among the familiar flavours are some less common – biscuit, brown bread, China orange, burnt filbert, burnt (I think we would call this caramel) and parmesan cheese.
The water ices are very similar in method, although the ingredients are sieved very carefully before being frozen.